Track-by-Track: Repeater - 'We Walk from Safety'
Posted on August 8, 2011 - by Michael Duncan
On their second full-length, Repeater discovered a sound that unifies gothic rock with post-punk charm. The album, entitled 'We Walk from Safety,' was recorded with multi-platinum producer Ross Robinson (The Cure, Klaxons, Glassjaw, At the Drive-In) and released just last week. Held together with crackling guitars, supple keys, and a pounding rhythm section, the effort is centered around the rousing voice of vocalist/bassist Steve Krolikowski. Along with the digital release, the four-piece are raising funds to make the record available on vinyl and CD. You can help them out by heading over to their Kickstarter campaign. Standout tracks on 'We Walk from Safety' include "Finally a Place," "Hold Back the Tide," and "Arms Upon the Ground."
Frontman Steve Krolikowski was gracious enough to dish out plenty of details regarding each song on Repeater's new album. Check out everything he had to say below.
'We Walk from Safety' has been a long time in the making, and even longer in the waiting. We’ve finally found the right time to put it out, and it’s a great feeling. Quite a while ago now, we were approached by producer Ross Robinson out of the blue. He had listened to our Myspace page (that’s right) and had gravitated towards our previous recordings enough to offer us help in producing a record. A few months later we were at Ross’ house on Venice Beach. We called this place home for around three months.
Ross gave us the same treatment that he would have given to any other project, regardless of scale. We had brought in 13 songs, I think. Some were completely finished and already performed, and others were musical skeletons waiting to be fleshed out. We had provided basic recordings of most of our songs, so we entered pre-production smoothly. We worked on tightening the drums, changing some drum parts drastically to increase dynamics, rearranging certain parts of songs, and talking about the feel of the songs in general.
Ross Robinson’s method of production has a huge psychological component. His goal is to get an emotional rise out of every player and every performance, even if it’s a simple rhythm part. He established individual moods for each song, which I would like to think made each song somewhat separate from the ones around it, even though they all had similar instrumentation and mixing. Ross and Matt [Hanief] worked really hard on the drums, making these really machine-like parts that intentionally sound really loud and punchy on a recording.
We all recorded together, Matt with tape on all his fingers, and then we proceeded to overdub all the other parts besides drums. The psychological process began anew, with Ross squeezing any spare emotion out of us to get extra character in each performance. Guitars and bass were relatively simple to get down, just trying to get the most characteristic takes. Alex [Forsythe] and I breezed through our parts, enjoying the great tones we got in the studio. Synthesizers feel less emotion, so Rob [Wallace] and Ross worked together to find really great ways to tweak all the guitar effects the keys were running through.
Ross was working hard on mixing most of the time we weren’t working directly together. He did a lot of manual editing, especially on the rhythm parts. Everyone was basically done with their stay and I stayed a little longer, working on really loud vocal takes and harmonies. I threw in some other little instrumental touches as well. Because of new projects with other bands, Ross’ final mixing of ‘We Walk from Safety’ was delayed for a while after that. We are really happy to show this record to the world.
"Yours and Mine"
This song was written around a long but simple chord progression Rob and I wrote on keyboard. I think we were originally trying to write something that sounded like a Brit rock song. The basic structure of two parts, a long introduction and a double-time second half, were written in a matter of an hour. As with most of our songs, the lyrics came later. When we worked on this song with Ross, it was clear that it was a good opener for the record. The sounds frame the structure of the whole recording. There are strained vocals, two guitars, a bunch of wildly effected keyboards, and a couple accent instruments added by me later. I play a tom with my finger with a very close microphone in the very quiet parts. Ross and I wanted to recreate the tom-tom sound at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The song is about a physical manifestation of high anxiety, in the form of a demonic figure haunting my window as I try desperately to sleep and prepare for a new day.
"Finally, a Place"
This song is the combination of two very disjointed parts –- the main song and the second half. The main part of the song was written in the gothic style we were in before we started writing the whole record. The second half is definitely influenced by progressive indie music like Mew. Ross definitely helped shorten the song and to tie everything together with the heavy rock beat in the chorus and the outro, which sort of layers the two halves of the song. In the mixing stages, Ross tried to get a really punchy snare sound like Electric Light Orchestra for that part. This is a very poppy song but the lyrics lie deeply in my heart. It is about the musical journey my friends and I have taken, and how it so often returns to the places we started, and the vision we had when we began.
"To Swallow Lost Goodbyes"
This is a dancey song. We often wrote dance songs but threw them away because they were just too poppy or too easy. This song is weird and eerie without sacrificing the beat; it's a true post-punk song. Ross really added a dynamic element by messing heavily with Matt’s drumming; before we went into production the song had a much straighter groove throughout. This one was around quite a while before we knew what type of album it was going on. My little trumpet is featured heavily on this one -- it adds a certain looseness and acoustic feel to the song, especially since I can’t play it very well. This song is about two strange nights, both involving windows.
This is number four for a reason. This one is a slugger. It’s one of the later ones written for the record, but it really came together quickly and it was complete when we came to the studio. I think this song helped us break out of the very melancholy atmosphere we created with a lot of our material before this. The production on the drum parts really helped open the dynamics up on this very driving, emotional song. Alex’s guitar picking part on the minimal chorus really helps break up the shotgun attack of the verses. Unlike most of our tracks on this record, which end in question, madness, or desperation, this one is sort of inspiring at the end. This song is about dealing with the destruction a life of clinical depression has left behind, and finding new ways to channel old feelings.
"Black and Selfish Love"
Somehow, this evolved from an interpretation of a later Blonde Redhead song. This does not sound like Blonde Redhead. This simply structured song was mangled into a dark, twisted nightmare. The song is about a murder by drowning, and explores the feelings of both the victim and the victor. Because the song structure is pretty simple, it allows the instruments and vocals to travel in all directions without leaving the space of the album. Ross took multiple bass parts and just rearranged them until they sounded right. I have to give myself credit for some insane bendy playing on a Danelectro in the outro. The track end noise is a pleasant sampler of me playing my little trumpet and failing to hit a high note because of my lack of practice. This is interspersed with bits of my stacked harmonies, which sound pretty silly when they aren’t buried in the song.
"Hold Back the Tide"
This song sounds very straight and gothic rock compared to all the other ones. It was a live favorite of ours for quite a while before the real album writing process began. Ross did less production on this than on all the other songs. It sounds like Repeater sounded a year before that. That’s not a bad thing; I love this song. I was able to add those vampiric backing vocals to sort of glue the song into the rest of the album. This song is one of the most abstract lyrically. It relates a singular moment of mental clarity in which one could feel lifted above all suffering, as if foot-deep in pure rainwater on a pristine grassy floodplain. This image is subverted by the cross section of the earth, as in a geology book, where the ground below is filled with hollow caves, trash, skeletons, and the remains of suffering.
"Knowing Every Weakness"
This was the youngest song we had written when we went into the studio. So, unlike the other songs, it was the most open to production and rewriting. I can really hear the signature sounds of Ross Robinson in this song. It’s heavy and poppy, almost like a different, heavier band. A lot of the changes and drumbeats were written from scratch in the studio and you can tell that the space and feeling changes to a very aggressive formula at this point in the record. This song is written about the feeling of true accomplishment, and how that feeling is simply a seed for new goals. I guess this song is about the studio experience itself, in a very self-reflexive manner.
"Is This the Last Time"
This is also a newer song, but it’s very unlike the previous song. I think this song expresses the strangest Repeater could sound sonically at the time. It’s a weird half-time epic which really challenged everyone involved. This song is about saying ‘no’ when you really just want to stay comfortable and continue a sick relationship for one more day. Rob’s keyboards are super strong in this one, taking over the bass part and making all sorts of gut-wrenching sounds. The melodica part adds a little bit of acoustic depth as well. As with most of the record, there are vocals everywhere. I really like the agonized screams at the end. Believe me, I was feeling it at that point.
"Keep the Sun from Rising"
This one is about staying up too late with your friends, and then when they leave, you still can’t get to sleep. This was around for quite a while as a song called "Ordinary Guests" and was a strong part of our set for a long time. Ross’ production is pretty open on this and the song wasn’t altered too much when we worked on it, except of course adding dynamic tricks to the drum parts. I really like the mix of high backing vocals and keys on this; the backing line is really integral to the chorus and ending.
"The Stars Spell Out Your Name"
Because of the way the song titles were constructed, a lot of the titles can be sort of cryptic as they relate to the song itself. This one fits perfectly. It’s about a single moment when one person entered the room and changed the entire scene with her presence and command of the situation. The bass and drums are very heavily edited on this song and it almost didn’t make the cut because the groove kept getting shifted around. Ross doesn’t use any grids or loops when he edits, so this song was pretty much shifted beat by beat, over and over again. I am so very glad it ended up finished because I love the way this song sounds, and it belongs on this record. The lead part sort of drifts from Alex’s guitar over to the keys and then is echoed by my minimal guitar part. It’s a pretty rock song, and the mix is very complex but doesn’t have the bombastic ear assault of some of the harder tracks. The main parts really rise to the surface.
"Arms Upon the Ground"
This is just a solid song built on a single short chord progression and a cool guitar part that both guitars play basically the same. It's about some lost people returning home after a long exile and viewing their abandoned city from afar. I got to go crazy on guitar for this one. I think I made Ross happy by just letting go completely on guitar and playing the crazy solo at the end. This is overall the simplest song, in the mix and the performance, and it’s a great peaceful closer to such an insane record. This album was sequenced well, and the last two songs really bring it down to Earth for a good landing.
Pick up Repeater's new studio album, We Walk from Safety.